Thought conformity in the counterculture

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There are times at UVic when I feel I am in the minority.

Now, I am not a member of any visible advocacy group on campus. I’m just a working-class Irish-Canadian student, raised by a single mom with three other brothers in a small, nowhere town in the interior. I’m trying to earn a degree and hoping for a career afterwards. In these respects, I’m not too different from a number of students here. But I seem to be in a minority here when I ask questions or express beliefs that do not conform to any of the preset agendas on campus.

Recently, during a survey on campus, I was pressed for a classification of my moral and political views. When I said “egalitarianism,” the surveyor gave me a very aggressive 20-minute lecture on why egalitarianism was just an excuse to perpetuate patriarchy and how it was misogyny in disguise.

The questions that most annoy such students are always “why?” or “why not this?” Both of these questions occasionally elicit some surprisingly hostile answers. So, why do I keep asking questions? Because if we accept any status quo and stop asking questions, however unpopular they might be, we forget the questions that helped create our modern world: “Why is racism acceptable?” “Why is sexism acceptable?” “Why shouldn’t women have equal rights?” “Why shouldn’t the LGBTQ community have equal rights?”

To borrow from the famous Woody Allen quote, society is like a shark — it has to keep moving forward or else it dies. And if we stop asking questions, even if we have declared victory over ignorance, intolerance and cruelty, then we risk stopping and dying. We must continue to challenge each other in discussion and debate — that is why I continue to ask questions.

We should also remember that people don’t have homogenous groups. Individuals make decisions and classifications that put people, objects and ideas into context with terms that they can understand. We do this all the time when faced with new information. Inevitably, just as there are many individual lives at UVic, there are individual opinions. Spend some time at the Martlet office, a Pride gathering or a political party meeting, and I bet you will find people across a spectrum of opinions in that room. Someone who may be your mortal enemy on one issue may be an ally or a friend on another — maybe just not for the same reasons.

UVic has a conformity problem; we demand that students loudly proclaim their progressive point of view and vilify those who don’t share it in its entirety, assuming that they must be either ignorant, evil or both. This is an ultimately paradoxical position on an inclusive campus

There is an old story of a professor going to visit a Zen monk at a monastery to talk to him about Zen Buddhism. The professor talks about the various historical and philosophical influences on Zen without stopping as the monk pours them tea. The professor ignores the tea as the monk drinks his. The monk then fills his cup again and fills the professor’s cup again, causing it to overflow. The professor says, “What are you doing? Don’t you know the cup is full?” The monk nods and says, “Yes, and you have to drain it in order to drink more. If you want to really learn, you must first empty your cup.”

Let’s all empty our cups when confronted with different ideas.

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One Comment

Avatar ceveritt

I was admittedly a little bit confused when I read this — confused on what was being said, and confused as to how I felt about it. If I understand it correctly, Armstrong is complaining about having other peoples’ progressive political (and otherwise) stances shoved down his throat? Or being vilified for not partaking in those beliefs?
While I don’t at all agree with the/any surveyor lecturing those people being surveyed, I also think that there can be no surprise about the negative and hostile responses when one asks questions like “Why shouldn’t women have equal rights” and “Why shouldn’t the LGBTQ community not have equal rights”.
Everyone should be allowed to form and hold their own opinions and beliefs (political and otherwise) — on this I agree with Armstrong — but in a culture where the dominant belief-system has (and still does) severely limit and damage those groups that fall outside the (hetero)normative, it should be understandable how adamantly people feel about these kinds of topics.
How many people come specifically to UVic because it is supposed to be progressive, forward-thinking, inclusive, etc.? How many people (on UVic campus and otherwise/historically) have fought for minorities’ rights, and fought against things like racism and sexism that are still very-much alive today?
Again, I do agree that homogeneity and conformity are negatives — but come on. This is going out to everyone, not just Armstrong: stand fast in your beliefs if you believe them to be correct — but be prepared for an argument and debate, ESPECIALLY when your beliefs are arguing AGAINST progressive movements. How many people elicited (and still elicit) aggressive, hostile, even violent responses from people when championing those PROGRESSIVE beliefs?
Not that long ago, and even still today, people were barely allowed to THINK those progressive ideas let alone voice them aloud.

Thanks for your time,

Cassandra.

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